by Steve Saideman
Many people are asking the right questions about the much ballyhooed next Canadian military deployment, including where and whether there will be a vote or not. The problem is that we are getting the questions in the wrong order, which is creating more confusion. We cannot ask some questions until we know the answers to the others. The vote question should be after we know much more about the mission. The where question actually is not first either. So, here is the correct order of questions:
- Will Canada commit to doing a UN mission of some kind? Yes. The government has set aside 600 troops. Now we need to ask the second question.
- Will Canada send these troops to one place or to several? Aha! You might not have been expecting this question, but we still don’t know whether Trudeau is Paul Martin or Jean Chretien on this issue. Chretien committed Canada to many missions at the same time, with smaller contingents (I hope I am getting this right). There is much talk right now that what Canada can best provide are “enablers.” This is the fancy military term for specialized personnel who are really good at certain tasks and would be “multipliers” making the existing UN force more efficient/effective/efficacious/excellent. Paul Martin wanted Canada to make a big difference by focusing its effort on a key spot or two. While he retrospectively regretting the Kandahar mission, that was an example of this view. Go to one spot, be very responsible, have greater command of your own troops since you dominate the neighborhood. So, Canada could send that one battalion (600 soldiers is a battalion, more or less) to someplace where they might make a big difference. This question is prior to the next question because we cannot say where the troops will go until we know if there are going to one spot or many.
- Where will the troops go?
- If one spot, then there will be many questions to be asked of that one spot. Who are our partners? Will Canadians be commanding themselves? Commanding others? What is the nature of the mission? Peacekeeping? Peace enforcement? How kinetic is the place? That is: how violent is it?
- If many spots, then there will be different questions as Canadians will not be in command (most likely), their role will be quite specific, and they will, almost certainly, be far away from combat. They will be at bases doing logistical stuff or training.
- Once we know where they will go, then we can start figuring out whether there should be a vote or not. If the troops go to many relatively less risky spots, the current precedent of no votes for such stuff should apply. If the troops go to one spot but are mostly doing something approximating traditional peacekeeping, then a vote is unlikely. If they go to someplace like Mali, where combat is going to be part of the job description, then the question will be whether the Liberals follow the precedent set by Harper. Of course, we can then have the discussion of what counts as combat, which usually misses the point, but whatever gets the attention in Ottawa…
Why is it taking so long for the Liberals to announce the decision? Because as we should have learned by now, the Liberals have a very deliberate process that looks slow to outsiders. It requires a subcommittee of cabinet to meet before it goes to cabinet. Getting these folks together is not easy and apparently does not happen very frequently. Cabinet-style government is slow. Should it be this slow? I am not sure, as I would rather the government enter the next mission with all due diligence and deliberation than rush into it. But the optics are the optics. Will Trudeau have something specific to announce next week at the UN General Assembly? Probably not. Does that matter? Probably not. It is the doing that matters, and once Canada deploys, either to one spot or to many, what they do there is the key.
So, we don’t have to read all of Phil’s stuff on parliamentary votes quite yet. But soon.